Lady Bird: A Real Charmer
Review by Aaron Haughton
A24 continues to astonish with Lady Bird, the directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig. It's an honest and poignant depiction of late adolescence whose universality is sure to land with most, if not all, moviegoers. Gerwig, who also co-wrote several scripts with Noam Baumbach prior to Lady Bird, has taken a few pages from Baumbach's book, but in such a way as to not become derivative; her film emanates indisputable freshness, finding roots in Gerwig's crisp script and taken to new heights by the mesmerizing performance of Saoirse Ronan.
Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, the film follows Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan) during her senior year of high school. She fights against her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (played by Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat following Lady Bird's father (Tracy Letts) is fired from his job, over which college — she wants to go New York; her mother wants her to stay in California — and trying her best to fit in. The film is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.
Lady Bird is just downright touching. This film is one of the most relatable films of the year. It's story of wanting to escape the place you came from should strike a chord with nearly anyone. Essentially, it's a story we've been told many times before, but Lady Bird is such a vibrant three-dimensional character that you feel her struggle as she feels her way through life, and you walk away from the film feeling as if you really knew her. It's easy to see a lot of yourself in Lady Bird, especially with regard to the relationship with her mother, which Gerwig excavates both the humor and pathos from its turbulent bond.
While I'm sure that a lot of Lady Bird's character is lifted from off Gerwig's taut screenplay, Saoirse Ronan takes the writing to another dimension, breathing life into the character in ways that only she is capable. Her demeanor is perfect; part rebel, part romantic, part awkward young adult trying to make sense of the world around her. Ronan gives Lady Bird a certain human quality, a vulnerability, and the film would definitely turn out much different if she weren't a part of the equation.
Another important factor to the film's authenticity is the relationship between Lady Bird and her parents. If that were to the fail, the whole movie would come crumbling down. Laurie Metcalf, who many probably know from the TV sitcom Rosanne, absolutely sells the role of Lady Bird's mother. The way in which she visually communicates the inner workings of the character are flawless. You can just see the sadness, joy, and fear in her eyes when she realizes her girl is grown up and is about to leave the house, and its these aspects of the performances — all of which are solid — that keep pulling you into the film.
Gerwig sets the tone of the mother/daughter dynamic from the very first scene. The pair are on a trip back from looking at a college. Both become sentimental over the conclusion of The Grapes Of Wrath on audiobook, tearing up slightly before erupting into a disagreement about staying in California for college versus going to New York. Right away, we are introduced to their subtle similarities and obvious differences. When the argument escalates to the point where Lady Bird feels the need to toss herself out of a moving car, it becomes apparent that they’ve had this argument so many times. This brand of subtle touch leaves its beautiful fingerprints all over this film, adding to its realism and, in many cases, its comedy.
Another element to the film’s honesty is how close the story is to Gerwig’s heart. She grew up in Sacramento and attended Catholic girls school. She also obviously has a mother, too. However, that may be the extent of the film’s autobiography; Gerwig had mentioned in several interviews that Lady Bird isn’t anything like herself. Having grown up in the area definitely strengthens the power of the film, as Lady Bird’s hatred for Sacramento morphs into a beautiful love letter. The shot compositions, expressly in the latter half of the film. lend their quality to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, transforming the city into a character itself with neatly composed shots that highlight the town's many locations. Coursing underneath it all is Jon Brion's wonderful score, which is up there in the upper echelon of his catalog with Punch-Drunk Love.
Despite the film’s very specific story and location, it manages to cultivate an experience that should be relatable to nearly anyone, especially mothers and daughters (which was, fun fact, the working title for the film). It’s feel and tone is somewhere between John Hughes and Woody Allen, but breathes a freshness that is wholly its own. It’s the kinda film that will make you want to call your parents (or children) afterwards, making it the perfect film to share with family this holiday season. Whether you laugh or cry (or probably both), you’ll definitely walk away from this one feel touched.
Rating: 4.5 awkward first times outta 5.
What did you think o the film? Where you charmed by its heart and honesty? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!